FIA Formula 2 front-runner Guanyu Zhou looks set to snatch the remaining available seat on F1's 2022 grid, with the Chinese driver close to signing with Alfa Romeo Racing.
Alex Albon's signing with Williams this week has diverted everyone's attention to Alfa Romeo where team boss Frederic Vasseur is pondering his choice for who will fill the Swiss outfit's second seat alongside future new recruit Valtteri Bottas.
With Albon out of the frame, it was believed that Mercedes protégé and Formula E world champion Nyck de Vries would become the favourite to land the Alfa drive.
But a lavish financial support package reportedly worth $30 million coupled with Zhou's good results in F2 have apparently propelled the Alpine junior to the top of Vasseur's short list of potential replacements for incumbent Antonio Giovinazzi, whose career in F1 is now at risk of reaching a dead end.
Vasseur says he is closely monitoring the fight for the title in F2 to get a "clear picture" of his options, which implies that he is indeed focused on Zhou who is currently second in the series just five points behind championship leader Oscar Piastri.
"The choice is important," said Vasseur. "We have some young kids that need to do more races. And we won't be able to have a clear picture before.
"Everything is open, including Antonio," Vasseur said. "Antonio is doing a good job. But I think that to be able to recruit and to welcome Valtteri is a huge opportunity for us.
"Then it doesn't matter if the teammate is a rookie or an experienced guy, we will benefit of the experience and the speed of Valtteri.
"I won't make any comment on who is on the list and who is not. On some of them it's looks a bit difficult due to the link they have with engine suppliers.
"We have a contract with Ferrari, and it looks difficult to do these kinds of deals, or impossible. And let's see about the others."
Vasseur comment appears directed at Mercedes works driver Nyck de Vries whose chances of joining the ranks of F1 next year have clearly faded this week.
However, Zhou is also linked to a rival engine supplier, namely Renault. But the Chinese driver is expected to be fully released by Alpine, while his massive financial backing and his marketing value as the first driver from mainland China to compete in F1 are perhaps the dealbreaker criteria that will get his deal with Alfa across the line.